There’s nothing I find more inspiring than seeing a woman entrepreneur pitch her business with poise, grace, and confidence. Luckily for me, I got to watch five women do just that recently during Enthuse Foundation’s pitch competition.
Hosting a pitch competition for women founders was a gratifying experience for me — especially in a world where only 17% of venture funding goes to companies with at least one female founder (and only 2% to companies with female-only founders). It was incredibly inspiring to watch these women, many of whom had never pitched their businesses publicly before, explain their brand to a panel of established industry professionals and a crowd of their peers.
The ultimate goal is finding the right investors for your business, and there are several ways to identify them. The most obvious is to ask people in your network who they know and ask for an introduction. Investors often specialize in specific markets such as food and beverage, tech, or beauty products, so network with successful entrepreneurs in your industry and ask for introductions to investors who may be looking to fund startups.
Another way to find potential backers is to attend pitch night events. In addition to learning more about crafting a successful pitch, the judging panel frequently has at least one investor. And apply to accelerator programs run by investors or brands whose vision and values are similar to yours. Many offer boot camps, educational sessions, and other programming aimed at founders looking to get their business off the ground.
Committed to Improvement
When launching the Enthuse Foundation, my team conducted focus groups with women entrepreneurs to understand what guidance they would find most valuable. One of the most frequent requests was pitch practice and feedback.
Many said that while they’d pitched to investors in the past, they never received feedback as to why their pitches were rejected. With this in mind, our Enthuse team began offering community pitch practices, followed by actionable feedback sessions. Below are four tips based on what I’ve learned to help others craft their own perfect pitch.
1. Sell investors on you. Your investors have heard of countless innovative products. It’s not the greatness of your product that will wow them, but your experience and commitment. Show them that you’re worth their money.
To inspire investor confidence, deliver a concise, fact-filled presentation that drives home your knowledge of market forces and consumer preferences. Seek out industry insiders and ask for their advice and insight. Read everything you can get your hands on: industry journals, consumer research, and any other data you can find to support your points. Investors love hard numbers, so quantify value whenever you can.
2. Know your competition. Do your homework on competitors — both within your industry and in other product categories — and keep an eye out for opportunities to show how your product has an edge.
Don’t be afraid to call out the competition in your pitch and tell investors why your product is better. LinkedIn took this approach when it was going through its Series B funding in 2004. Friendster was peaking, Myspace had just raised a premium round, and Facebook was just a bit more than a gleam in Mark Zuckerberg’s eye. But LinkedIn knew its differentiators and successfully sold investors.
3. View the Q&A as an opportunity. Investors are going to have a million questions, and you need to be prepared to answer anything you might be asked (and provide facts to back those answers up). You must have the ability to accurately provide detailed information on every aspect of your business: production costs, manufacturing process, marketing strategy, and distribution and growth plans.
This might sound intimidating, but you can use questioning to your advantage if you prepare. It’s easy for entrepreneurs to get cocky and think they can answer any question about their business on the fly. But it shows when even the most knowledgeable business owner takes the time (or doesn’t) to prep for questions. Draft bullet-point answers to questions you might be asked, and practice with a knowledgeable friend or mentor.
4. Own the room. Confidence can make or break your pitch. We’ve seen many smart, ambitious women with amazing products and persuasive pitches walk away empty-handed at pitch competitions, all because they lacked confidence while presenting.
As you rehearse your pitch, observe your body language in a mirror. Do you instinctively back up from the judging panel? Do you stand there stiffly or gesticulate wildly? Having a good sense of how you present yourself will help you feel more confident when standing up in front of investors.
At the end of the day, a successful pitch comes down to passion, preparation, and confidence. Show you know your stuff — including the data — and demonstrate that you mean it with a confident but approachable tone and body language. There’s no shame in a fake-it-till-you-make-it approach. Just holding yourself more confidently will subconsciously give you a boost and help you take control of the room. Who knows? Maybe I’ll see you at the next pitch competition.